To be considered for comparison to Warren Buffett's legendary Berkshire Hathaway
France's Wendel Investissement (OTC BB: WNDLF.PK) certainly fits the bill. So does Norway's largely unknown contender, Orkla (OTC BB: ORKLY.PK).
From its roots as a 350-year-old family firm, Orkla is now a sprawling public conglomerate with interests ranging from food to aluminum to finance. Its combination of operating companies and investment holdings resembles the Buffett approach more than a little bit.
The company maintains six main divisions:
- Orkla Foods: Orkla Foods is a leading developer, marketer, and supplier of food products in the Nordic region, Central and Eastern Europe, and Russia.
- Orkla Brands: Orkla Brands comprises companies in the detergents, personal care, snacks, confectionery, biscuits, household textiles, dietary supplements, and health products segments.
- Elkem: Elkem is one of Norway's major industrial companies and one of the world's leading manufacturers of metals and materials. Elkem also has positions within the solar energy industry.
- Sapa: Sapa develops, manufactures, and markets aluminum profiles, profile-based building systems, and heat-transfer strips in aluminum. Sapa's core businesses are profiles, building system, and heat transfer.
- Borregard: Borregaard is the world's leading company in the field of wood-based specialty chemicals, in addition to holding strong positions in the ingredients, fine chemicals, and energy industries.
- Financial Investments: Orkla's Financial Investments division manages one of Norway's largest portfolios. Its investment universe is primarily the Nordic region and Eastern Europe. Besides the securities portfolio, the division consists of the Orkla Finans Group, which is engaged in investment management, insurance broking, and investment and pension counseling; real estate, which develops real estate; and Borregaard Skoger, which manages Orkla's forest properties. On any given day, Orkla controls 2%-3% of the total securities on the Oslo stock exchange. Its investment portfolio returned 27.4% in 2006.
Orkla actively buys and sells divisions depending on their performance, their fit with the rest of the company, and market direction. It recently shed its media division for a tidy profit and increased its stake in Renewable Energy Co. (REC) to just under 40%.
Established in 1996, REC is the world's largest producer of solar grade polysilicon, the world's largest producer of wafers for solar applications, and a major producer of solar cells and modules. It's the only solar energy company to span the entire value chain, from silicon purification to finished solar module product. REC beat expectations in the fourth quarter with more than $200 million in sales. Orkla's Elkem division also moved ahead with the construction of a 5,000-ton production plant for solar grade silicon to be completed in 2008.
Orkla's group results for Q4 2006 were equally impressive. Net earnings after one-time sales jumped 20%, leaving a trailing PE under 15. All business areas reported profit growth. Cash flow from operations also increased more than 20%. Management slashed debt by 40% compared with 2005, and debt to equity now stands at a modest 0.24, down from 0.42 a year ago.
Last November, Orkla signed a letter of intent with U.S. aluminum giant Alcoa
Successful conglomerates have great assets and sharp management. Orkla meets my criteria for a great buy-and-hold investment. Even though the stock is up 70% from my initial investment and 300% from its 2003 lows, I still consider it a buy at these prices.
Berkshire Hathaway is an Inside Value recommendation.
Fool contributor Dale Baker, a private client portfolio manager, owns shares in Berkshire Hathaway B shares, Wendel, and Orkla for himself and his clients. He loves to find smart managers to make his money work, and welcomes yourquestions or comments. The Fool has a disclosure policy.